Tuesday, November 25, 2003

That’s Why I Came to This School

My European Civilization class has, for the most part, not been a very interesting place for discussion. We started out on the Middle Ages, which most of my classmates didn’t care much for. The net effect: nobody but me volunteered to contribute, time and again. I felt I was boring and dominating.

All that’s begun to change in the last few classes. Today, we came to talk about Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration. About half an hour in, the discussion started to heat up; someone made the point that Locke mandates a separation of church and state (in different words, of course), yet still maintains that atheists are dangerous to society. Although the common consensus was that Locke was biased there against atheists, the class asked on what basis society trusts them: is fear of punishment the sole glue of a pluralistic commonwealth? (In other words, do we rely on legal testimony today only because the witnesses fear being charged with perjury?)

This segued into a fantastic argument about natural rights. I thought that this was the defining moment of the course: students realizing how much political philosophy they take for granted. We talk about ‘human rights’ without thinking twice, although societies until the 17th century (and some countries today, such as China) thought on completely different terms.

(For example: When the Western nations criticize China on human rights violations, we don’t understand how they fail to see these as important. It’s not simply because they’re Communist; the Chinese ideal is one of the communal good, and if thousands of dissenters are tortured for what the authorities believe is the good of one billion citizens, what’s the big deal?)

I do believe that there’s a natural law and a dignity to the human person. I just want to emphasize that these things cannot be assumed at the beginning of a discussion. They are simply not obvious.

My classmates exhausted themselves trying to define a natural right, shouted out that the idea of natural law emanating from the commonwealth is ‘stupid!’ and debated whether one can be said to have a ‘right’ to murder if one can get away with it. Students argued that it was obvious how we ought to treat other people, or that we have no inherent rights whatsoever, or that rights are an agreement or contract within society.

It was a fantastic discussion, and I only hope there are more like that in this class. It’s the point of a liberal education to bring up the most basic assumptions in conflicting terms; there’s a difference between spouting the platitude “We ought to tolerate everyone else, as long as they’re not hurting anyone,” and examining why we believe that, how that thought originated, and what are the alternatives.

Oh, I also wanted to blog today about a lot of my recent thoughts on morality, the Spirit, prayer, humility, doubt and trust. But I’ll save that topic for later when I can do it justice.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to all. I’m going home to St. Louis tomorrow, and as great as this quarter’s been, I’m glad to be spending this weekend with my family. God bless and protect everyone who travels this week.

P.P.S. Highway 61 Revisited arrived today. Loved it on the first listen. Also arrived: a collection of Mozart pieces and all 9 Beethoven symphonies. Currently in the middle of the 5th...

P.P.P.S. I haven't laughed so hard in days. Check out the Ratings of Danger Signs, Part 1 and Part 2. Check out the Generic Danger Symbol...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

My Continuing Musical Education

It seems like my music collection is just starting. Below is a partial list of CDs I want to buy in the near future. “Partial list”, here, implies “Please give me feedback and suggestions”.

Granted, my musical tastes have changed and will continue to do so, but basically I get into guitar artistry (my present examples: Santana and Clapton), creative and deep instrumentation (Dave Matthews Band, Five Iron Frenzy), brilliant lyrics (Ben Folds, Rich Mullins) and their intersection (Radiohead). And I’m just starting out on most classical composers.

So without further ado:

The Beatles, Revolver
The Clash, London Calling
The Clash, Combat Rock
Cream, Wheels of Fire
Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
Gustav Holst, The Planets
Radiohead, Pablo Honey
Radiohead, The Bends
Dmitry Shostakovich, Tenth Symphony
Dmitry Shostakovich, Fifth Symphony
Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra
Igor Stravinsky, Rite of Spring
They Might Be Giants, Dial-A-Song
Richard Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights

So what do you think? What should I add? What’s your need-to-buy list?

Monday, November 17, 2003


1. I recently found out that Thanksgiving is next Thursday, not this Thursday. I’d thought this would be a short week, and that I’d be heading home soon.

2. I’ve apparently figured out how to turn off my alarm clock without waking up. This is not a good thing.

3. The amount of information that I need to absorb to be a mathematician is continually increasing. I was working today with the grad student who runs my Directed Reading Program:

“Okay, the easiest proof of Riemann-Roch is the Serre duality theorem. Patrick, have you heard of Serre duality?”
“Okay, it’s related to Poincare duality. You’ve heard of Poincare duality?”
“Let me think...” (pause) “No.”
“It’s sort of like the connection between singular cohomology and... oh, wait, have you done cohomology?”
“Um, no.”
“Oh. Well, you will.”

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Modern-Day Horoscope or Virtual Psychoanalysis?

 Conscious self
Overall self
Take Free Enneagram Personality Test

Much right, a little wrong. (Rarely indecisive?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2003


My continued (irrelevant) tinkering with the details of this blog continues.

Coming soon: a Socratic/Caelian dialogue on the church.

If I have time.

P.S. If the intersection of music and Christianity interests you, check out the liturgical music debate at Father Keyes' blog and the "Christian Music Industry" debate at Josh's blog.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Concert Review- Ben Folds with Ben Lee

Now, of course the quality of a show depends a lot on the audience, so in all fairness I should say that this was a Ben Folds crowd. We knew the lyrics to all his songs, and shouted out the “ba-ba-baa” part to Kate without prompting. But the audience-performer relationship goes both ways, and it was clear to me that Ben Folds understood what Ben Lee did not: that this was not like most college shows, that the students were somewhat self-conscious, and that any sort of intellectual allusion would go over big.

Ben Lee was more or less forgettable. Australian, very mainstream sound, the poor man’s John Mayer really. His scripted transitions between songs fell completely flat, he couldn’t get us to stand up or scream. The guy has some good guitar skills and a smooth nasal voice- a little too smooth to convey a lot of emotion. And although I’d never heard his songs before, when he finished half a line of lyrics I had a pretty good idea how that line was going to end. Now, I know this sounds like I didn’t enjoy his performance at all, which isn’t the case; it was a good enough hour. But I’m not going to buy his CDs.

The only ones I can remember, in approximate order of performance:
Dirty Mind
Nothing Much Happens
Pop Queen
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Ship My Body Home

Ben Folds hit the best songs from his old albums (not necessarily the most played ones) and gave us just a taste of his new stuff. There was never a dull moment, as he improvised piano detours and told us the stories behind a few of the more enigmatic songs. At one point, someone on the upper balcony shouted out “Ben Folds rocks Saddam Hussein’s Ass!”, whereupon he composed a song around that phrase (eventually ending with “I don’t know where this crap is going...”).

Again, in approximate order of performance:
Fred Jones Pt. 2: About as good an opening as any, as he just shrugged off the standing ovation.
Zak and Sara
Best Imitation of Myself
All U Can Eat: This was a song off Ben Folds’ new “Sunny 16” and was a little preachy, but overall good listening about our screwed-up consumer culture.
Kate: There was a girl named Kate in the audience whose birthday was today. He remembered that after the song, and sang her a special version in minor key with disturbing lyrics about getting older and dying. It was a funny touch.
Bruised: He brought Ben Lee back out to do this song from this summer’s “The Bens”. Ben Lee sounded a good deal better on this than on his solo stuff, partially because his guitar had Ben Folds’ piano to deepen the sound, and partially because the lyrics were less predictable.
I Touch Myself: Hilarious cover song, another duet with Ben Lee.
Learn to Live with What You Are: Also off “Sunny 16”; not bad.
Selfless, Cold and Composed: I didn’t realize before how good this song is. It's going on my playlist now.
Army: Ben made up for lack of other instruments by using the audience here. Half were trumpets, half saxophones. I didn’t realize U of C students had all this enthusiasm, but we really got into our instruments.
The Luckiest
Rockin’ the Suburbs: Ben- “I wanted to call this song ‘Korn Sucks’, but I decided not to.”
Not the Same: The original finale; Ben split us into the three parts of the major chord, used us during the song, then directed the giant choir for a few final rounds.
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces: Encore 1, prefaced with the great story of the senior-year prank that inspired his ISAP rap, which eventually turned into this song.
Song for the Dumped: Encore 2, and a great climax to the show, including massive audience participation on the most memorable line, as well as his repetition of a verse in Japanese. Remember what I said about intellectual allusions?

So all in all, this concert was a great Saturday night, and worth multiple times what I had to pay for it (much of the cost was shouldered by the U of C Major Activities Board). And that’s more than enough blogging.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Machiavellian Barbecue

You know, I really meant "Mongolian Barbecue", what I had for dinner tonight. But Machiavellian works even better. I’ve just completed the gauntlet:

Thursday, 12 PM: I was remarkably well prepared for the Math Logic midterm; I finished half an hour early. So far, so good. Except that I knew how my paper had gone...

Thursday, 1:30 PM: Drat drat drat. I wrote the paper, edited it, then realized it didn’t really fit the prompt. I was supposed to answer "what does The Discourses tell us about history?" and I was too caught up in discussing what Machiavelli actually meant. Well, excuse me for actually caring about a person’s ideas, irrespective of their $@*!ing historical context...
(Nota bene the following: 1. I don't yet know what my paper was graded. 2. This is civilization class, not philosophy; it's supposed to be about history. 3. It’s really all my fault for not beginning the paper until Tuesday. 4. I do understand how important historical context can be. 5. I realized the flaws of my rant as I was writing it just now.)

Friday, 1:30 PM: The Reps of Finite Groups midterm made me wish I had back that half hour I gained on the Math Logic midterm. It required so much writing my hand hurt. Basically, I had 50 minutes to write out the full proofs for three of the most complicated theorems of the quarter. I just know I've made crucial oversights; I hate not having the time to at least think over my responses.

Friday, 6:30 PM: The reward. Six Michelsonians up to Wrigleyville to eat at the Mongolian Barbecue there. You get a bowl of stuff (a lot of meats, sirloin and calimari included, and a good number of sauces/spices) and they cook it for you, semi-Hibachi style, with sword-like implements on a big heated iron slab. It was pretty good; highlights included Russell and Dennis making each other “torture bowls” to trade, then seeing who gave up first. So the week ended well, and I should post Ben Folds/Ben Lee concert highlights after I see them tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I'm not here... This isn't happening...

Thursday (12 PM): Mathematical Logic I Midterm

Thursday (1:30 PM): European Civilization Paper (historical significance of The Discourses by Machiavelli)

Friday (1:30 PM): Representations of Finite Groups Midterm

Friday (3:30 PM): Directed Reading Program session- Elliptic Curves

Current Wish: How to Disappear Completely, Radiohead